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Helen Green

Quest Leadership

Leadership Collaborator

Read more from Helen Green

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Keeping training real


The Donald Rumsfeld quote:_

There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don't know we don't know

…. may have come in for some criticism at the time but it is surprising how often it applies in a business setting. From customer information to the state of the marketplace and from business intelligence to future technology trends, those knowns and unknowns can sometimes leave business leaders feeling as though they are trying to operate in a fog.

The instinctive response is to try and know everything; to be as fully trained and up to speed and in tune with the marketplace as possible. But take too broad an approach and the only outcome will be information overload. It’s a dilemma which comes up time and time again in training. The changing business landscape demands that employees have a more holistic view of their organisation but give them too much information and it could hamper their ability to effectively carry out their tasks.

The solution is to ensure that all learning is related to the workplace and aimed at furthering the current business goals. Not only will this help to ensure that employees have the right tools at their fingertips to perform well, relating learning to the workplace helps to achieve maximum learning transfer. For example, let’s say that your company manufactures and sells toothpaste. From a training point of view, it would be good if all employees had some knowledge of the range of products which you sell and of the potential marketplace but go into too much detail and you are simply providing information which will neither help people to do their jobs better nor help the company to meet its goals. 

Customer facing employees may need additional knowledge such as packet size and availability, but here again give them too much information about the manufacturing process or chemical compounds used and they may be tempted to overcomplicate matters when talking to customers. However, those who are likely to interact with customers may need training in areas such as communication skills or conflict resolution to a level which those working in more back-office functions may not require.

In other words:

*Known-knowns - you want employees to know what they need to know to carry out their task

*Known-unknowns – you may want employees to be trained further than their immediate needs so that they can better understand and further the business objective

*Unknown-unknowns - but give people too much information and rather than furthering objectives it may even hinder them

Getting the balance right simply requires the leadership and training teams to ask themselves at every stage what training is required to further the business goals and to deliver that training with immediate reference to the current and future anticipated workplace situation. This applies equally whether the training is being delivered to the most junior member of the team or to the highest echelons of the business leadership. If you’d like to learn more about leadership development then feel free to get in touch at

Author Profile Picture
Helen Green

Leadership Collaborator

Read more from Helen Green

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